Sunday, 23 January 2011


Eric and Dustin, the Canadian guys who pilot the twin otter plane that
supplies our base, fly up from MZS (Mario Zuchelli Station, Terra Nova
Bay) to evacuate our patient to McMurdo base. This isn?t like the
last time though, our patient is stable and we can take our time.I take the medevac this time. It?s just me and the patient in the back
of the plane, with two large drums of emergency avaiation fuel
strapped down in front of us. On the right the row of seats have
their backs folded down and the stretcher gets strapped on top of
them; One seat remains up on the right for me to sit beside him.
They journey is straightforward. On his oxygen the guy is fine, I
check his obs and the pressure in the O2 cylinder every half hour to
hour. There?s plenty for the four hour flight.It reminds me of the flight I had in the search and rescue helicopter
in Stornoway last April, and I?m very glad I had that experience.
Especially the chat I had with the winchman/paramedic of the crew, it
gave me some idea of what to expect in the twin otter, what can and
cannot practically be done in the back of a noisy aircraft. The
dimensions inside are similar; the twin otter is probably slightly
thinner and longer but it?s not much different . My headset is
plugged in to one of the periodic jacks in the compartment?s sides and
I have to move the plug if I want to move around, My voice sounds
weird in the headset just like it did that time, too. I have to say
now I?m very grateful to the Stornoway crew for that trip. If anyone
in Stornoway is reading this, please could you pass on my thanks to
those guys.Dustin, the co-pilot, eased himself through the open cockpit entrance
into the back and puts on a kettle. While I get a salbutamol
nebuliser going for the patient he makes us all chicken noodle soup
using one of the fuel drums as a worktop. It?s the first homely food
I?ve had in almost two months and I promise you I?m going to remember
it for a very long time. Our patient drops his sats to 75% as he
tucks into his cup but he's OK.I suddenly feel like that the air is more pleasant than it has been in
ages; But were still flying at 14000 feet. Then I realize - the
humidity is much higher, and that's making breathing more comfortable.
We must be nearing the coast. I look out and see that below us is a
carpet not of snow but of thick cloud; It?s lovely to breath so much
better.We get to McMurdo having flown the last part under the cloud layer and
above the transantarctic mountain chain. The peaks get up to 3,500m
under our flight path. There are high glaciers with only the highest,
thin rocky ridges of the mountain summits protruding shallowly through
the ice, forming narrow spines in 3 or four pointed star shapes ,
and then, right beside these buried  peaks exist deep, deep valleys, some
of them entirely without ice.  it?s a remarkable sight.
We wheel left and there below us are the buildings of McMurdo?s
airfield, an isolated huddle of buildings in the middle of a vast
plain of sea ice, that extends from the foot of the abruptly ending
massif. On the other side of the ice shelf we can see Mount Erebus,
the worlds most southern volcano. And, little more than a speck in the
distance McMurdo, another isolated huddle of buildings in this vastness.
We land very smoothly. This is a well kept, busy landing strip very
different from the bumpy, lurching runway of our own less frequented
base. There are four USAF Hercules lined up neatly at the side of the
landing strip, and a couple of twin otters run by the Ken Borac
company that supplies us. The runway seems to have moved further away
from the base since the last time I was here. I know the Australian
base has had problems with early thawing of their strip, and I wonder
if the same has happened here and that they?ve had to move the
airfield out to safer ice. Apparently now it?s an hour?s journey
across the ice shelf to the base, it was probably fifteen minutes when
I was here before.
Anyway; we?re not going into the base this time. When we land we hand
over our charge, who bounces out of the plane and into the waiting
ambulance looking much better now he?s down and breathing in a
full-fat atmosphere. I quickly hand over to the paramedic. They
don?t hang around, apparently they have three Medevacs from various
bases coming in today.While Eric and Dustin refuel the plane I get twenty minutes internet
time, probably the last time for 2011, in one of the cabins.We get airborne again quite quickly, this time making for MZS where
these guys are based. We fly over McMurdo, past the smoking Mount
Erebus ? apparently there is a webcam set up to view the pool of lava
inside it?s cone; over the huts that Scott and Shackleton built on
their joint expedition long before they each met their separate fates
down here; and over the the ice channel cut by US ships supplying
McMurdo. We see the small vessel that patrols up and down the channel
continuously to keep it open, and a bigger vessel; a supply ship
making?s way down this strange icy canal.
Then another left turn out over the edge of the ice sheet. We fly over
thin fragmented pack ice, and big icebergs calved from glaciers, as we
make for Terra Nova bay above a calm, glistening Southern Ocean. We 
chat all the way, about nothing very much, to Mario Zucchelli
This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program.----------------------------------------------------------------
This message was sent using IMP, the Internet Messaging Program.

No comments:

Post a Comment